We are saddened to learn of the death of the great Ornette Coleman
. Below we have posted Barry Witherden's guide to Coleman's recordings, first published in
The Wire in 1999, and revised and updated for inclusion in 2009's The Wire Primers.
Like the composer Charles Ives, Ornette Coleman has suffered from a commonly held misconception that he is a ‘naive artist’. Such an impression is rooted in two anecdotes, neither accurately reported nor understood. When Ornette got his first alto saxophone at the age of 14, he taught himself to play from a piano tutor and mistook C on the alto for A. He eventually realised his mistake, but the misunderstanding made him examine pitch and harmony in a fresh way. Thus began the process which led to an improvising style based on freely moving melody unhindered by a repetitive harmonic substructure, and finally, to his theory of harmolodics – a democratic, holistic organising principle that accords equal weight to melody, harmony and rhythm.